Tales of Tucson

The Nelson Step

Throwback Thursday:  This story is a few years old.  The blood stains have all disappeared long ago. But member of the third world club will carry this memory and this mental image for a long time to come.

Look down when you are leaving the bar at the third world racquet club — one of these steps is not like the others.

It’s blonde and has a slightly different pattern. That’s the step where Nelson broke his face.

Nelson is one of the tennis pros. Some say he is a fucking American hero. You know why? Because he’s been there for more than 7 years teaching summer camp, and he hasn’t killed a single kid.

If I tried that, it would be listed as an American atrocity. Those little “darlings” descend by the 100’s on the 3rd world in the summer. Nelson stands out there all day in the broiling sun. It’s the kind of sun that burns into your eyes and nose and just makes you want to kick puppies and strangle little shits. 

I remember a voice from my childhood: “You know, you kill a few and the others tend to listen for a while…” that’s what my second cousin, Paulie, the New York City police captain, told me when I was 10.

Was it last year or the year before, Nelson had back surgery because one of his hips hurt. The doctors never looked at his hips. They looked as his ample gut and decided it was his back.

After cutting his back open and removing a disc didn’t work, they finally looked at his hip. Once they saw that picture, they ended up replacing both hips. Fucking surgeons suck.

In the middle of this medical travesty, Nelson was known to join us for a few drinks. Sort of — he mixes beer and tomato juice. I don’t know what you call that, but it’s not fuckin’ drinkin’.

Anyway, it was a rare week night that I wasn’t in the bar. Nelson had a few too many tomatoes. His cane gets caught on the first step, (or his foot, or he just fucking fell over) and smashed his face.

Broke the tile all to hell. Broke his cheekbone too, and left a small pool of blood that retained a little red stain on the floor for a few weeks. Just another marker of the 3rd world folks — move along — nothing to see here.

This is not Nelson — nor the Third World Racquet Club stairs, but you get the idea.

Eventually they fix the tile, but they can’t match it. So you can see the Nelson Step from the top. It’s easy to imagine if you throw yourself head first out of the bar, and curl up like an Olympic diver doing a forward tuck, you too could break your face on that step.

So now every night we leave the bar, we grab our unnecessarily over-sized tennis bags, and drag our aching knees, feet and hips toward the goddamn stairs. (By the way, who puts a bar upstairs? At our age, we need a fucking escalator.)

Just as the first knees pop, we say: “Watch out for the Nelson step.” We clutch for the handrail like we are on a crab boat in the Bering Sea. And we wait.

Because one day, someone else is going to take a header off the top step, and smash their face on a tile. And no one wants to be the new Nelson — that’s the fucking Nelson’s Step, and we want to keep it that way.

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